28

December

Alshon Jeffery, Bears offense present test for Packers

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league's top big targets in his second season.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery has developed into one of the league’s top big targets in his second season.

A year ago, Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was–if anything–a detriment to Chicago’s offense when the Bears and Green Bay Packers met at Soldier Field in December. As the Packers clinched the NFC North title, Jeffery was flagged for three offensive interference penalties and failed to catch a pass.

Jeffery totaled just 367 yards in 10 games last season. Four weeks ago at Minnesota, Jeffery racked up 249 yards and a pair of scores in one game alone, boosting his stat line to a near-1,000 yard spike in production up to this point of the season.

And with Jeffery on one side, Brandon Marshall on the other and Matt Forte reaping the benefits underneath, the Bears suddenly boast one of football’s more explosive offenses.

With backup Josh McCown at quarterback in the Nov. 4 meeting at Lambeau Field, Jeffery caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown–a marked improvement over last year’s seven total yards in two meetings. Head coach Marc Trestman and the Bears have remained consistent throughout their “quarterback controversy,” making it clear that Jay Cutler would be the starter as long as he’s healthy.

Cutler carries his 1-8 career record against the Packers into Sunday’s win-and-in scenario, while Aaron Rodgers makes his return for the Packers after a seven-game absence. And while Rodgers has tilted the game in the Packers’ favor in Vegas, Cutler and Chicago’s offense is gearing up to make Sunday’s game a shootout.

When the Packers have the ball, they’ll likely feature a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks against Chicago’s leaky run defense. Rodgers figures to take more downfield shots than Matt Flynn in recent weeks, but the Packers’ run-heavy offense will likely continue this week.

If the Packers are able to run the ball effectively and control the clock, then Chicago’s offense, which has scored 30 points six times this season, will be limited to a certain extent.

Coming into the season, cornerback appeared to be one of the Packers’ deepest positions. Last year’s leader in interceptions, Casey Hayward, figured to help mask the loss of turnover creator Charles Woodson, while Sam Shields stepped into the No. 1 cornerback role, veteran Tramon Williams was recharged and youngsters Davon House and rookie Micah Hyde looked to build on a strong preseason.

17

December

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy: What Is He Thinking?

Mike McCarthy

Some of McCarthy’s decisions have led to many questions about whether they will help or hurt the Packers from here on out

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a track record that speaks for itself:

73 wins

37 losses

.664 winning percentage in regular season

5-3 record in playoffs including a Super Bowl Championship

Two appearances in the NFC Championship game

Three NFC North division titles

Not bad, right?  Even by the sky-high standards of the Green Bay Packers and their fans, those numbers exude success.  But McCarthy has become somewhat of an intrigue lately.  As we know, he calls the offensive plays for the Packers during games.  He has done so since his arrival in Green Bay.

At times, especially this season, he has had fans and analysts alike scratching their heads with some of his decision making.  Now, I realize that he gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers some freedom to alter the play at the line if Rodgers sees something he thinks he can take advantage of.  It’s hard to say exactly whether some of these offensive failures were McCarthy calls or Rodgers check-out’s.  Whichever is the case, McCarthy is responsible for all of it as head coach.

Despite having clinched the NFC North division with today’s win over the Chicago Bears, the Packers still have a chance to improve their playoff seeding over the last two weeks of the season.  They return home to face the Tennessee Titans next week which screams (and I mean a blood-curdling scream) “trap game”.  Any lapse in that game and even worse, a loss, will fall squarely on the shoulders of McCarthy and how he prepares the team this week.  In week 17, they will face the Minnesota Vikings in what will surely be a tough game as the Vikings are now in great position to reach the postseason.

Any Packers player or coach who is asked will tell us:  “We believe in coach McCarthy and what we are trying to accomplish”.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I’d rather have that type of team culture than some others that I see (the Philadelphia Eagles come to mind).  At the same time, I think Packers nation is starting to grow anxious as we watch McCarthy baffle everyone from fans to the TV analysts (even Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) with some of his play calling.  And specifically late in games when the Packers have a decent lead and their destiny is in their own hands.